AHA! (Ask, Hear, Act)

Employees want to know that what they are spending their time producing, creating, designing, delivering, . . . has meaning. Employees want to know their work is significant to their manager, leadership, team, and the broader organization. They also want to know that, in the process of their work, they are learning and experiencing that which will help their continued development and growth.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is helpful in understanding at a very basic level, human motivation.  Inspiring engaged employees means affecting people at the highest point in the hierarchy – self-actualization. This is the place where people are seeking to become all they are capable.  Leaders in pursuit of more engaged employees  can use any of these probing questions in group or one-on-one situations:

  • How can I better support you?
  • What can I do to help you?
  • How can I enable your success?
  • What else should be considered?
  • What suggestions do you have for my continued improvement?

It takes courage, humility, and discipline to graciously ask, hear, and act on what employees’ share.  There’s much to be gained for everyone in this process. However, if this type of inquiry is new for you, proceed thoughtfully. The winning formula to inspiring employees to be more engaged requires leaders to ask questions and respond timely and meaningfully.

7 Steps To Forging A New Path

Leading others requires an ability to connect with the hearts and minds of team members. Inevitably, there will be challenging relationships and rough interpersonal dynamics. As luck would have it, there’s always that one person on the team with whom you struggle to establish a trusting connection. No surprise, we are perfectly imperfect human beings! There are many reasons why the relationship isn’t working. Without even knowing the details, it’s easy to surmise that you share in the dysfunction. Although as the Leader, rest assured, you’d be held accountable for the success or failure of the relationship.

I want to be sure we’re on the same page. I’m not referring to those relationships that are troubled because the person has a performance issue. I’m also not talking about likability. I’m assuming that we’re at the level of maturity where we can relate to be people we may not like. This is all about nurturing healthy and happier manager employee relationships – essential to achieving higher levels of employee satisfaction, engagement, retention and performance.

So you’re frustrated and at your wits end with managing this situation. You’ve tried a few things that haven’t worked. You’re not ready for an intervention or perhaps you don’t have access to those kinds of resources. Before you throw in the towel on what could be one of the more successful working relationships you’ve ever experienced, here’s a suggestion. Try these “7 Steps to Forging a New Path” for the next few (at least 4) one-on-one meetings with the team member in which you are having difficulty connecting. Your goal in working these 7 Steps is to get the relationship on track and create a more effective interpersonal dynamic.

  1. SCHEDULE THE MEETING. Ensure the meeting is scheduled for the time of day when you are at your best. This is the time of day when you tend to be the most patient, compassionate, and attentive.
  2. CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE – Your perspective will influence theirs. Get rid of your “war armor” (i.e., defensiveness, anger, annoyance…). In fact, kick off the meeting with a sincere compliment. Preferably noting something the person did or participated in that went well. Be sure you have a good understanding of the matter. You don’t want to risk sounding condescending or insincere. Let the person know your intention: you are trying a different approach with the hope of improving the relationship. This disclosure is important to share at the on-set. It will influence buy-in and boost engagement. You are also letting the person know that you are taking responsibility for where things are and inviting them to participate in the transformation. These actions are powerful influencers towards gaining trust.
  3. SEEK TO UNDERSTAND.  Be authentic in the conversation. Make a point to talk less and listen more. Listen to improve your understanding. Ask probing questions to minimize misunderstanding and assumptions (mindtools.com). Assumptions are dangerous when people have difficulty relating.
  4. TEACH, COACH, but don’t PREACH.  As you are navigating the conversation, be mindful of your tone and approach. Respecting the talent level of your team member will help you know when to coach and when to teach. As will the additional data you’ve gleaned as a result of your probes in Step 3. As a general rule coaching conversations are more appropriate for people with advanced skills, experience, and organization understanding. But coaching is a skill. So make sure you’ve taken the time to hone yours before you begin this journey hbr.com.    (Development resources: The Five Minute Coach, L. Cooper & M. Castellino, 2012. Coaching for Performance:  Growing Human Potential, by J. Whitmore 4th Edition)
  5. BE HELPFUL.  During the last 5-10 minutes of the meeting, ask this question: “What can I do to better support you?” Your response to whatever is requested should be a firm positive commitment or you will need to negotiate a win-win agreement. A “no” response is not an option as you want to be helpful in a manner that is meaningful to the employee (skillsyouneed.com).
  6.  Take notes during and after each meeting. In addition to capturing the agreements and deliverables, note the overall interaction. Reflect on how the interactions evolved. Be specific about what was better, worse or the same. Note your observations of the person’s behavior and engagement level. Ask your team member for feedback. Specifically, what worked for them? Get clear about what you specifically did and didn’t do to contribute to the outcome.
  7. REFRAME YOUR APPROACH.  Use the learning from this experience to change the way you interact with this team member. Keep doing what worked and ditch what didn’t. As you improve your coaching skills, the quality of the interaction will also improve.

©2016 Amplify Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.


Employees Make the Brand!

Companies commit significant time and resources into articulating their brands for the marketplace. I really look forward to Forbes annual “Most Valuable Brands” list http://www.forbes.com/powerful-brands/list/.  In most cases, its easy to surmise which brands will make the list. These Companies are dogmatic about their strategies, products and consumer experience. Many keep us excited about what’s to come. Some brands influence our lives in meaningful ways. I’m hopeful that we will see more of this kind of thinking and action, as the normal course of business, when it comes to how Employers think about employees. Companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook . . . are modeling the way in making the employee experience a strategic imperative. But there’s a significant population of Employers that haven’t been able to translate their concerns about the talent gap and being able to compete into consistent action. Why employers undervalue the importance of this work is baffling. Undervalue sounds harsh. But what’s not a strategic priority doesn’t get our attention or resources. So let’s call it what is. It is that very lack of action that becomes a distraction to the brand’s greatness.

Harvard Business Review cited that only 61% of Employers developed an Employee Value Proposition to support their employer branding activities hbr.org. Fewer Employers are noted as even having a clearly articulated employer brand. There is no better time than now for a shift in our thinking. Employees are one of the biggest assets to any company. They are the brand ambassadors; the secret sauce. If Employers really want to attract, hire & retain the best, we must be willing to demand the best of ourselves and challenge our values and beliefs that limit our progress related to the employee employer relationship. Corporate transparency and trust have become synonymous. Trust in government and business is on the decline http://www.edelman.com.  And all the while, employees have unprecedented access via the Internet and social media to get and tell their truth about Employers.

There’s lots of good to be said for having a clearly articulated employee value proposition (EVP) http://www.kpmg.com.  Most important, is that it will enable your talent management efforts. Let’s face it the war on talent will be around a long time — especially good talent. Whether or not you have an EVP, you must be intentional about ensuring management practices and employee policies align with the brand. It’s simple: employees should be treated as well as customers. When they aren’t, business suffers; the brand suffers. Here are some fundamental truths related to this alignment. Hopefully something here will inspire you to take the lead in making the employee experience more than a conversation.

Truth #1: Employees make the brand!

Truth #2: There’s an implicit arrogance in believing your own press about your greatness as an Employer. It inhibits retention; circumvents good thinking; makes it tough to recruit in a talent economy; and influences over paying for jobs. Humility is a healthy and helpful disposition.

Truth #3: The tone & spirit of some employee policies breed lose/lose outcomes. While our customer policies tend to inspire win/win.

Truth #4: Too many times employee policies are created to offset management skill gaps. Commit to management development; hold managers accountable for improving.

Truth #5: Some management practices are contrary to what we mean to reflect: stiff, harsh, punitive, biased, indifferent…stupid.

Truth #6: Paralyzed by data, risk management, nonexistent creative thinking and poor writing skills, we take the path of least resistance and allow our employee policies to be written in legal speak. They don’t reflect the soul of the brand and they don’t inspire.

©2016 Amplify Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.